Education Opinion

What Age Should Children Start Using iPads, Education Apps, and Technology?

By Patrick Ledesma — November 21, 2011 2 min read
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It’s Thanksgiving week! It’s that special time of the year when we recognize the special people and events in our lives. Then, after pausing to give thanks while eating lots of food, we will battle each other for parking spaces and limited quantities door buster sale items.

So, as you prepare for the Thursday midnight sales and Black Friday,

What technologies are on your shopping list this year?

Are you planning to buy technology for any children?

Cecilia Kang from the Washington Post published a timely article last week that examines if the expanding availability of education apps for kids on technology devices such as smartphones, iPads, and other tablets are good for children.

In the article, Kang cites a recent report from Common Sense Media that finds that even very young children are frequent digital media users.

COMPUTERS. Computer use is pervasive among very young children, with half (53%) of all 2- to 4-year- olds having ever used a computer, and nine out of ten (90%) 5- to 8-year-olds having done so. For many of these children, computer use is a regular occurrence: 22% of 5- to 8-year-olds use a computer at least once a day, and another 46% use it at least once a week. Even among 2- to 4-year-olds, 12% use a computer every day, with another 24% doing so at least once a week. Among all children who have used a computer, the average age at first use was just 3 ½ years old.
MOBILE MEDIA. Half (52%) of all children now have access to one of the newer mobile devices at home: either a smartphone (41%), a video iPod (21%), or an iPad or other tablet device (8%).
More than a quarter (29%) of all parents have down- loaded "apps" (applications used on mobile devices) for their children to use. And more than a third (38%) of children have ever used one of these newer mobile devices, including 10% of 0- to 1-year-olds, 39% of 2- to 4-year-olds, and 52% of 5- to 8-year-olds.
In a typical day, 11% of all 0- to 8-year olds use a cell phone, iPod, iPad, or similar device for media consumption, and those who do spend an average of 43 minutes doing so.

The full report is available here.

Kang also tells stories about how parents perceive the value of the technology. Some parents are convinced of the value of these devices and apps- from keeping children occupied while doing errands to helping students learn basic reading and math skills.

Others caution on misrepresenting the education value of these technologies, while experts like Harvard professor Howard Gardner points out that no technology can replace real world learning experiences.

Kang’s article provides a balanced view of how different people are using these technologies with children.

Parents are like Educators

In trying to understand the potential applications, benefits, and challenges of using these technologies with children, perhaps parents are not that much different from educators.

Many parents and educators recognize the educational value of technology, being able to achieve a healthy balance in how technology supplements a well-rounded learning experience.

Some parents, just like some educators, may not be as successful in achieving this balance. They may see technology as only a quick Band-Aid solution to a deeper and more complex problem.

Sometimes, it’s easier to buy the technology rather than address the underlying reasons for the problem.

And just as Howard Gardner remarks in the article that there is no app for encouraging imagination; unfortunately, there is no app to help parents or educators use technology wisely.

In the end, technology and apps are only tools. It’s up to the user to use the tools appropriately and wisely.

But ultimately, we will use whatever tools are available to us in the best way we know how.

As the saying goes, “It is what it is...”

So, will you be buying any technology for children on Black Friday?

The opinions expressed in Leading From the Classroom are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.